Changing the world one person at a time
Rotary Youth Recognition awardee Sarah Yahya was upset when John Howard lost the election. They shared a birthday. As a newly arrived migrant, she understood little about Australian politics – she didn’t understand why everyone around her seemed so happy.
It’s been six years since then. She is a well-spoken, intelligent young girl and at eighteen years old has become an outspoken and active member in her community. She already has her sights set on politics.
As part of the Mandaen religious minority, her family fled Iraq in 2001, fearing persecution. With her mother and sister, she fled to Jordan where she would live and attending school for the next six-and-a-half years. Her family had originally applied to travel to America, but were instead sent to Australia.
She arrived with no knowledge or understanding of English, her situation complicated by a hearing impairment.
As part of the learning process, she entered an Intensive English program.
“It was the worst moment of my life, people bullied me because of my appearance or my hearing impairment.”
Sarah suffered in silence. She didn’t want to put any extra strain on her mother, who was finding it difficult to settle down in her new home.
The discrimination extended far beyond petty slurs – on one occasion they set fire to her hair, and in an act of grotesque brutality, they broke her leg and left her alone on a field. Nobody who saw her helped her up.
It was lying in the field, everyone ignoring her calls for help, that she made a determined resolved.
“I realised I was the one responsible for me – I couldn’t just lie in the park, begging for help.”
Sarah resolved to never let anyone face what she did that day – she would always be there to pick someone up, and help carry them to safety.
And so she picked herself up off that field and walked with her broken leg to the bus stop.
Sarah credits a lot of her confidence to a competition she entered in 2010 – the Dorothy Shaw Young Writers’ competition: a nation-wide competition for deaf and hard-of-hearing students.
Her teacher at the time had asked her to enter, and although she didn’t feel confident in her chances she says she felt sorry for her teacher. Every year she had asked students to enter, but nobody had.
Two days before the competition deadline, Sarah sat down and began to write.
She placed first.
Sarah is now involved in the Liverpool Youth Council and acts as their media representative. She has made numerous speeches to various groups and has written two plays, one of which she has directed. She has engaged in a tutoring program to help others learn to read, helped establish youth conferences, and is a member of the Mandaen Youth Committee.
Sarah finishes her HSC this year and is looking forward to her graduation.
“I can’t wait for all of this to be over with – all the hard times.”
She has since seen some of the people who bullied and attacked her, but says she cannot hate them. She can only feel sorry for them. Just like her, they had been knocked down and nobody had come to help them up.
Sarah wants to one day work in politics with the United Nations.
She says a lot of people believe they don’t have the ability to help others, but she disagrees.
“You don’t have to change the world, just that one person’s world. If you can help them get through the day, then you have done your job.”